The car of the future

2 October 2015



Words: Greg Gearing


Could we possibly watch a driverless Formula One race one day, where manufacturers compete against each other purely on the performance and technology of their vehicles? It might seem like a crazy idea, but if you look at the progression of the motor vehicle it's not unthinkable.

Cars of yesteryear

As cars have progressed, the amount of driver input required to get a car from A to B has reduced. Think back to some of the first cars. To begin with, the driver had to complete a mini gym session just to get the vehicle started by winding up the engine. Then they would be required to operate numerous levers and pedals to get it moving, not to mention steering. The invention of a steering wheel was a feature that helped reduce the amount of driver input and allowed drivers to focus on the road, which became increasing more important as the number of cars increased.

The next major breakthrough that reduced the amount of driver input was the introduction of the automatic transmission, which was first put into mass production by General Motors in 1939. Again, this technology allowed the driver to do one less thing when operating the car, thus making it easier and safer to drive.

Cars of today

In more recent years, technology has allowed countless developments that have reduced driver input, which are mainly focused on the need to make cars safer and eliminate the risk of human error when operating them.

Most middle-of-the-range cars today come with cruise control, anti-lock braking systems and electronic stability control as standard. These features allow computers in the car to make adjustments automatically without the driver’s input and reduce the risk of an accident occurring.

In the high-end range, crash avoidance technologies, such as blind-spot monitoring, forward-collision warnings and lane departure warnings, are already common place. All these technologies are likely to play a crucial role in the ‘driverless’ cars of the future and are a good signal of where the future of cars is going.

Cars of the future

Much has been written on the electric car and many believe this to be the car of the future, and for good reason too. Most major automobile manufacturers already have an electric car in some form or another in full-time production.

But if we shift our horizon out a little further, it becomes clear that the other key development in the motor industry will be driverless cars. One only has to look at the players involved in pursuing this technology, companies such as Google, Apple and Uber. These are not your traditional motor vehicle manufactures, rather companies at the forefront of innovation. And if they are investing large amounts of money into the concept of driverless cars it would suggest that they see this as the future of the car as well.

The race has begun in the quest to produce the first fully autonomous vehicle and there are some manufacturers predicting they will have vehicles ready for the market as early as 2020; that’s less than five years from now.

The logic is fairly simple; reduce the amount of driver input and you will have a safer vehicle. The underlying assumption is that a computer is able to consistently make the right decision and therefore eliminate human error, which is the cause of most accidents.

The introduction of driverless cars is set to have a significant impact on many industries and one in particular would be the insurance industry. With fewer accidents occurring and the ones that do occur not necessarily being through driver error or negligence, where does liability fall?

Will car manufacturers be exposing themselves to more liability considering that the technology they use and sell is ultimately driving the vehicle? If this is the case, is there even going to be a need for private insurance in the future?

These are all questions that will need to be answered sooner rather than later, as they will form a fundamental aspect into the feasibility of this form of technology. One thing is for sure, it will affect insurance companies and policy makers, and they will need to develop as fast as the cars themselves are developing to ensure they remain relevant and provide the service required.

No one can be entirely sure what the exact ramifications of driverless cars will be for the insurance industry. However, it’s still advised that regardless of how modern, green and safe your vehicle might be, it’s always best to have that added layer of safety with the required comprehensive car insurance cover.

Although it’s unlikely that we will see a driverless formula one race in the near future or ever, the concept is closer to reality than many of us may think. Driverless cars are coming and it will be the company’s that dream the biggest, adapt the quickest and plan ahead who will thrive.